Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert on Inspiration

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Elizabeth Gilbert talks about an important lesson she learned from the mother.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Her most recent book is the #1 New York Times Bestselling memoir "Eat, Pray, Love," about the year she spent traveling the world alone after a difficult divorce. Anne Lamott called Eat, Pray, Love "wise, jaunty, human, ethereal, heartbreaking." The book has been a worldwide success, now published in over thirty languages with over 7 million copies in print. It was named by The New York Times as one of the 100 most notable books of 2006, and chosen by Entertainment Weekly as one of the best ten nonfiction books of the year. In 2008, Elizabeth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World, by Time Magazine.

In addition to writing books, Elizabeth has worked steadily as a journalist. Throughout much of the 1990’s she was on staff at SPIN Magazine, where – with humor and pathos – she chronicled diverse individuals and subcultures, covering everything from rodeo's Buckle Bunnies (reprinted in The KGB Bar Reader) to China’s headlong construction of the Three Gorges Dam. In 1999, Elizabeth began working for GQ magazine, where her profiles of extraordinary men – from singers Hank Williams III and Tom Waits (reprinted in The Tom Waits Reader) to quadriplegic athlete Jim Maclaren – earned her three National Magazine Award Nominations, as well as repeated appearances in the “Best American” magazine writing anthologies. She has also written for such publications as The New York Times Magazine, Real Simple, Allure, Travel and Leisure and O, the Oprah Magazine (where her memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" was excerpted in March, 2006.) She has been a contributor to the Public Radio show "This American Life", and -- perhaps most proudly -- has several times shown up at John Hodgman's Little Gray Book Lecture Series, most notably during Lecture Four on the subject "Hints for Public Singing."


Question: What is the best advice you ever received?

Gilbert:    The best advice I ever gotten came from my mom.  And interestingly enough, I don’t think she ever gave it to me directly.  I just remember hearing it from her in another context.  My mom, in the 1970s, worked as a nurse at Planned Parenthood.  And she was really on the frontlines of the whole women’s reproduction kind of debate, the beginnings of access to birth control and the beginnings of the idea that people should be taught about their bodies.  You know, it was a really controversial and heated moment in time.  And she was right there, in the middle of it.  And it meant a lot to her, it meant a lot to her for a lot of reasons.  But probably, foremost, of which was that she had grown up in this farming community in Minnesota where she had watched as, every year, one 16 year old after another got pregnant and it was a scandal, you know.  And every single time, it was a scandal as though it had never happened before much less 6 times in the last year.  And every single time, the girl’s life was ruined unless the boy married her and the boy’s virtue is never questioned.  And there were all sort of… There were just all sorts of wrongness about it.  And she watched her aunts and her mother having more children than they could manage.  And, you know, there was just a lot about it that was really important to her.  And she told me once that… You know, she use to council on girls and women who were coming to plan parenthood with really big decisions to make.  And she said to me once that… it was so daunting because, you know, they wanted advice and it was their lives and it was their bodies and she said that she would tell them, “Please do me this great service and please do me this great favor and please do yourself this great favor.  And try to remember, 10 years from now, when you’re second guessing this decision that you made, that you made the very best decision that you could make on this day with the information that you had today.  As the years go by, you’ll have more information and you might wish that you had done things differently.  But just don’t forget that on the day that you had to make the choice you didn’t know and you only knew what you have now.  Don’t abuse yourself later for what you didn’t know now.”  And it just strikes me so compassionate.  And it’s such an easy thing to forget because if you’re like me, you spend a lot of your life in sort of retrospective regret for things that you wish you had known at the time.  We can be cruel to ourselves in that way.  And it’s a lot of wisdom to expect that 10 years ago, we should’ve known what we know now.  That’s an unreasonable thing to ask.  So that will be the best advice I ever got.  Just remember, when you’re in the course of a difficult decision or when you look back on that difficult decision in decades to follow, that you made the best choice you could, given what you had.